4 Okla. VFDs ordered to surrender funds to county
The Muskogee County Board of Commissioners also told each department to submit an inventory of county-purchased equipment and to undergo a state audit
By Cathy Spaulding
MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Four Muskogee County volunteer fire departments must surrender all funds and submit an inventory of county-purchased equipment to county officials within 30 days, plus undergo a state audit, under a resolution passed by the Muskogee County Board of Commissioners.
The four departments — Brushy Mountain, Buckhorn, Keefeton and Mountain View — are listed as Title 19 fire districts, meaning they are outgrowths of the county government and subject to control of the county, said John Tyler Hammons, who provides legal counsel for the county. Hammons said some fire departments were not in full compliance with Title 19 statutes.
Monday's resolution requires the following:
- Designate Emergency Management Director Jeff Smith as requisitioning officer of all purchase orders for all Title 19 fire departments until further notice.
- Appoint a three-member selection committee, selected by the commissioners, to nominate individuals to serve on the boards of various Title 19 fire departments within 30 days.
- Require all Title 19 fire departments in the county to file an inventory of all county-purchase equipment within 30 days.
- Require all Title 19 fire departments to surrender all funds in their possession to the county treasurer within 30 days.
- Request the State Fire Pension System to conduct a membership audit of all Title 19 fire departments.
- Request State Auditor to audit all county Title 19 fire departments.
Commissioners passed the resolution Monday with no discussion.
Mountain View Fire Chief Josh Wood and Brushy Mountain Fire Chief Michael Dugan said they were not aware of the decision and would not comment until they had information.
Other fire chiefs did not seem happy.
"What are they trying to do, steal our money," Keefeton Fire Chief Speck Plunkett said.
Monday morning, Plunkett said he had not heard about the decision and had "no clue what they're trying to do."
"It sounds to me like they're trying to take away the money that the public gives each fire department," he said. "We have the sales tax money the public voted on to give us, and to give each department that they specified each department to get."
Plunkett said that, as a Title 19 fire department, Keefeton governs itself.
"The state of Oklahoma recognizes that, and I guess the county commissioners don't because they don't know about a Title 19," he said. "It sounds to me like the county commissioners don't want to work with the fire departments."
Buckhorn Fire Chief Clayton Webb said the county needs to put the firefighters on the county payroll.
"We're not just going to fight and let them spend our money for us. That's not going to happen," Webb said. "Either they're going to put us on the payroll, or they're going to get out of our business."
Hammons said Title 19 fire departments are government agencies and an outgrowth of the county government.
"They have a board approved by the county commissioners, they have to have a budget filed at the county clerk, follow county purchasing procedures, bank with the county treasurer," he said. "Those four are subject to county control over their purchase orders, they have to bank with the county treasurer, follow county purchasing policies and are subject to the Oklahoma Open Meeting and Open Records acts."
Hammons said Mountain View Fire Department is partly in compliance and following the rules. The other three are not in compliance.
Commission Chairman Kenny Payne explained his motivation for recommending the resolution.
"These things have been brought to our attention now as something that didn't even start in this room or in this board, but it has been brought to our attention," Payne said. "There have been assertions made that there are things going on that aren't legal. In my way of thinking, for me just to overlook that and go on makes me just as complicit as anyone else, and I don't think I'm in a position to do that."
Webb said the issue could be traced to allegations about delinquent payments to the Muskogee County 911 Center.
"We would not pay and sign the Mickey Mouse contract, and my taxpayers down here did not vote to support a failing agency, the 911," Webb said. "But the county commissioners, which should be supporting them, passed the buck off to the fire departments to support them, so it's wrong everything they're doing."
The issue stems from a 2022 dispute on wording of a contract between the fire departments and Muskogee City/County Enhanced 911 Trust Authority. The dispute centered on who was responsible for shortfalls in income. The original contract said that any shortfalls were to by made up by the City of Muskogee and Muskogee County. Plunkett said the authority was trying to pass responsibility to the various departments.
Webb said he sent information about Monday's resolution to the Oklahoma attorney general's office this morning.
"We're not sitting still, we're going to fight this tooth and nail," he said.
(c)2023 the Muskogee Phoenix (Muskogee, Okla.)
Visit the Muskogee Phoenix (Muskogee, Okla.) at muskogeephoenix.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.